AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Getting good at spiritual discernment comes down to three basic principles. First, you need to understand that truth comes from God, not people. Second, you need to realize that God is your Shepherd in life—He’s not just the Shepherd of everyone else. This means that you can count on God to lead you personally. You’re not strung out on human shepherds to lead you—you have God. Understanding these first two principles will set you up with the confidence you need to apply the third critical principle which is to question everything. Don’t just believe what we tell you and don’t just believe what anyone else tells you. Don’t just believe what some guy wrote in the Bible. We’re humans. The other folks who are talking to you about God are also humans. All those guys who contributed to the Bible were humans. Does truth come from humans? No, it comes from God. Now does God speak through humans? Absolutely, but not always. Plenty of times He lets demons speak through humans or He lets humans simply say their own foolish thoughts. You don’t want to listen to a bunch of guff, you want truth.
Whenever you come across teaching about God or spiritual matters, it’s like you’re walking through a field of fruit trees. Some of the fruit on the trees is ripe, some is rotten. If you just start grabbing everything you see and tossing it into your basket, you’re going to end up with a real mess on your hands. You need to be selective. You need to examine each fruit to see if it’s good or not. Look for bruises, mold, and signs that little critters have been munching on it. You only want to take home good fruit from the orchard.
Now a lot of Christian teachers try to convince you that their orchards don’t have anything rotten in them. They want you to come on in and just accept anything they hand you. Well, no, you’re not going to do that, because you’re tired of taking home a bunch of rot. So when some Christian teacher or preacher hands you a fruit, you need to pass it on over to God and ask, “What do You think? Does this one look okay?” He then hands it back and tells you whether to chuck it or keep it. When it comes to fruit assessment, you mustn’t trust the teacher or your own judgment. Why not? Because neither of you are God and God is the only Source of truth.
Now as a general rule, no one’s teaching you this kind of discernment in the Church. The most Christian teachers do is say, “Test everything with the Word of God.” Well, this is very lousy advice because who wrote all of those documents that we call “the Word of God”? Humans. Are humans God? Nope. If humans collect a bunch of documents that other humans wrote, make a book out of it, and call that book “sacred”, does that make the book turn into a God? Nope. God is God. He’s not a human, and He’s not a book.
Because humans wrote the Bible, and because humans aren’t perfect, the Bible has a lot of rot in it. Sure, there’s some great stuff to be found, but there’s also some really dangerous lies and a bunch of foolishness to be found as well. In the Old Testament we find people putting words in Yahweh’s mouth that He never said. We find “the good guys” praying some very disrespectful prayers (see Applying 2 Chronicles 20: Learning from Jehoshaphat), siding with God’s enemies against Him (see The Snarky Prophet: Lessons Learned from Jeremiah), and trying to take the glory for the things God has done (see Understanding Yahweh: Why Moses & Aaron Were Banned From The Promised Land). In the New Testament we find a lot of really wrong and very insulting teaching about who Christ is (see Who is Jesus?), we find more disrespectful prayers (see Learning from the Prayers of Paul), and we find all kinds of guff about what it means to please God. Is the Bible a safe book? No, it’s just another orchard that contains both good and bad fruit. Where does truth come from? From God, and God is not a book. So when you read the Bible, you need to look to God for wisdom. You always need to look to God, and anyone who tries to stop you from doing this by inventing substitutes for God in your life is leading you astray.
Christian teachers are famous for teaching the flock to rely on a false god: the Bible. They talk like the Bible is the equivalent of God Himself when it is so not. As a soul who wants to go far with God, you need to keep a firm grip on the identity of your Shepherd. Your Shepherd is God Himself—the living, uncreated, all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign, and totally non-human Being. Accept no substitutes for God in your life.
DISCERNMENT EXERCISE: JOYCE MEYER & THE HEALING WORD
Okay, so now that we understand who is God and who isn’t, it’s time to delve into another discernment exercise. This time we’re going to use an article written by Joyce Meyer—that super popular prosperity teacher who has cranked out all kinds of books about how to live a happy, healthy, peppy life in Christ. On the main website of Joyce Meyer Ministries, we find Joyce cranking out guidance under her “Everyday Answers” blog. In an article entitled “The Healing Word”, Joyce opens with this cheery thought:
God loves you. And because He loves you, He wants the best for your life—restoration and wholeness. That’s why Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life, died, and rose again. His sacrifice has provided the way for us to find and experience the healing and restoration we need.
God has a plan for your life, and He wants to heal you everywhere you hurt. John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us abundant life, and part of that abundant life is making sure you are healthy and whole—physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
As is typical for those who subscribe to prosperity theology, Joyce rejects the idea that it is God’s will for Christians to be less than “healthy and whole” on every level of their being. So…when exactly did God say that? He didn’t. The only time God ever talks at length about giving people health, wealth and happiness on earth is way back in the days of Moses. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible—known as the Torah—and in those books, he records a lot of direct words from Yahweh. When Yahweh established His first Covenant with the nation of Israel, He laid down a bunch of rules which He commanded the Israelites to obey. He then went on to say that if all of Israel obeyed those rules, then all of Israel would experience the sweet life on earth—the same kind of life the prosperity folks say that you can have today. But what they don’t tell you is that Yahweh only offered the perfect life to an entire nation, and never to individuals. They also leave out the part where Jesus said that following Him would lead to all kinds of trouble and strife.
Jesus was not exactly Mr. Sunshine when it came to talking about the quality of life His faithful followers could expect to have on earth. Instead of promising health and wealth, He promised His disciples a bunch of harassment, persecution, torture and death. When speaking about the general cost of following Him in a world that hates God, He was quite clear that the cost would be high.
“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matt. 10:34-36)
Jesus makes no apologies for the fact that staying true to Him will cause us a lot of grief down here. Instead of saying, “Obey Me, because I’ll give you the sweet life,” He says:
“Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.” (Matt. 10:28)
In other words, “Pick a side: do you want to deal with the wrath of people or the wrath of God?” So much for finessing us. Now it’s not that Jesus isn’t sympathetic about our struggles. But He’s God Almighty, not some co-dependent doormat, so He doesn’t say, “Pretty please obey Me because I desperately need you. No, you don’t want to? Well, how about I give you a lollipop—would that help?”
So given how much Jesus talks about how much flack we’ll get for following Him in this world, how does Joyce arrive at the crazy conclusion that Jesus promises us a life of perfect health and wholeness? Well, first she has to ignore pretty much everything Jesus actually said. Then she has to carefully pluck out a few nice sounding one-liners and conveniently forget their original context. John 10:10 is a good example of this. Jesus is in metaphor mode in John 10, and He’s likening Himself to a good human shepherd (see Analogies of Jesus: The Good Shepherd). In John 10, He says:
“I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:7-10)
This is metaphorical language, Jesus isn’t being literal. The characters in this metaphor are symbolic. He’s talking about Israel’s own spiritual history. The sheep in this metaphor represent souls who are sincerely seeking Yahweh—the only real God the Jews have ever known. The thieves and robbers represent spiritual leaders in Israel who tried to lead Yahweh’s followers astray and prevent other folks from even attempting to seek God. In the Old Testament, there were a ton of evil priests and prophets who would fit this description. In New Testament Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees were notorious for trying to lead souls away from God while pretending to be His representatives. Here in John 10, Jesus says, “No, those who are really seeking the true God recognize imposters and they don’t listen to what they say. But I’m not an imposter—I’m on Yahweh’s side, and any sincere Yahweh follower will recognize that I’m legit. It’s only by submitting to Me that folks can stay on the right side of Yahweh. I’ve come to save you spiritually, not to lead you astray.”
This passage has nothing to do with mental, physical or emotional health. Jesus is talking about spiritual discernment. He’s helping the Jews make an enormous theological shift from believing in only one God—Yahweh—to understanding that there are actually three Gods—Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Under the New Covenant, submission to just Yahweh is no longer sufficient. Today we have to submit to Yahweh and Jesus and the Holy Spirit if we’re going to end up on the pleasant side of eternity. Jesus is talking about spiritual issues and only spiritual issues in this good shepherd metaphor. Yet notice how Joyce tries to stretch the meaning of abundant life:
John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us abundant life, and part of that abundant life is making sure you are healthy and whole—physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
No, that is not at all what abundant life is. That’s obviously what Joyce wants it to mean, but Joyce doesn’t get to decide for Jesus how He will define “abundant life”. God prioritizes the health of our souls over the health of our earthsuits, and He will gladly plague us with earthsuit miseries in order to benefit our souls (see Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities). So right out of the gate, we see Joyce preparing to convince us of something God never said. Bring on that rotten fruit.
So how exactly do we tap into this fabulous healing that God supposedly wants us to have? Well, Joyce says we have to work at it.
One of the ways we can choose life is through prayer and by speaking His truth over our lives. I want to help you do that. You can speak these scriptures and confessions over your life to strengthen your faith in God for the healing and wholeness you need.
Notice the reference to verbal utterances. Prosperity teachers are huge fans of the power of the spoken word. “If you talk right, you can fix your life,” is a theme that comes up over and over again, and of course it’s very attractive to our egos because it puts the power in our court. God’s power manifested in the form of blessings becomes like water in a faucet which we can turn on and off at will. The soul attitude of submission is ignored while we all focus on how to get that faucet to flow more freely. You’ll find that prosperity teaching puts an enormous emphasis on what you want and on pleasing yourself, while the concept of pleasing God is basically ignored.
Now obviously we’re not all going around healthy and whole, so what’s jamming up the faucet? How come God isn’t coming forth with those blessings? What can we do to jar Him loose? These are the issues prosperity teaching focuses on because the whole thing is one tiresome refrain of “gimme, gimme, gimme.” Well, Joyce has answers for all of us frustrated Christians who are living out less than perfect lives. It turns out that the way to kick God into gear is to bust out that magic talisman that never fails: the almighty Word of God. Joyce says:
Think about it like this: If I have a headache, I take an aspirin to get relief from it. I have to swallow the pill for it to work. If I put it on top of my head, it won’t do anything for me. God’s Word is medicine for our spirit, soul and body, and the way we experience its power is by speaking it out loud, praying it to God, meditating on it, and believing it. When you speak His Word over your life, it releases that power into your life. It won’t work for us if we just have a Bible and leave it on the shelf. We have to use it.
At this point some major alarms should be sounding in your brain because Joyce has just introduced a new god into the mix. She says God’s Word—which is another name for the Bible—has power. The book itself has power. She says you have to go through the book to get the real God to interact with you in certain ways. Yikes, no, this is such dangerous teaching. In the first place, God is not a book. So the Bible is really not “medicine for our spirit, soul and body,” nor does the book itself have power. By deifying the book, Joyce is creating a fourth god—and according to her, this god is superior to the real Gods because she’s telling you to go to the Bible instead of to God directly.
Let’s check out the language here. She says the way we experience the Bible’s power—not the real God’s power—is by going through multiple steps. Step one is speaking portions of Scripture out loud. Well, wait—how does merely speaking something out loud release the Bible’s magical powers? Because we’re spell casting sorcerers, and somehow reading the words out loud forces our book god to act. Crazy? Yes, but if you’re not stopping to think, you won’t catch the fact that Joyce is coaching you like you’re some student in a “how to be a good witch” class. Joyce is instructing you on how to manipulate the powerful magical talisman you have in your possession—a talisman to which she has assigned Divine powers. So step one was merely quoting portions of Scripture out loud.
Now we go on to step two: praying Scripture at the real God. So we take our book god, and we start reading portions of it to the real God…and what exactly does this accomplish? Well, the implication here is that the book god will force the real God to act. Notice Joyce doesn’t tell you to pray to the real God directly—no, you have to wield the book god against Him, because the book god is more powerful. Wow. How do you think the real God feels about you trying to zap Him into action with your Bible wand? Does this sound like a respectful way to treat the real God? Are you practicing soul submission when you’re trying to cast spells on God to make Him do what you want? Not hardly.
Joyce then takes us to step three: meditate on Scripture and believe what you read. But why? Shouldn’t we be meditating on and trusting in what the real God has said to us instead of hanging our faith on some book? As we’ve already discussed, the Bible is a mixed bag. There is some really rotten teaching in it. If we imitate Joyce’s style of ripping one liners out of context, we could end up meditating on Ecclesiastes 10:19:
A feast is prepared for laughter, and wine makes life happy, and money is the answer for everything.
This is King Solomon talking—that same idiot who covered Israel in temples to demonic idols and who so totally rebelled against Yahweh in his soul (see Know Your Bible Lesson 11: The Rebellion of Solomon). But according to Joyce, it’s great for us to meditate on Solomon’s idiotic dribble, because the book god can’t be wrong.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecc. 1:2)
Here’s another mantra we could choose, and boy won’t meditating on this pearl chase those clouds of depression away.
“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecc. 9:11)
Here’s more of Solomon: notice how he tells us life is just one meaningless pile of random chance. Wow. And it was this kind of dribble that the apostle Paul called “God-breathed.” No, God really isn’t the One saying that life is some pointless, random mess. That’s just foolish Solomon talking. But does Joyce warn us of the perils of yanking random phrases out of the Bible and treating them all as rock solid truths? Of course she doesn’t. If she admits that the Bible has a lot of guff in it, she’ll have to give up on the idea of it being a god, and she wants it to be a god, because she wants some way to manipulate the real God into doing what we want.
So then, according to Joyce, the Bible—not God Himself—is the solution to our health problems. We’ve got to crack open the book, read it out loud, read it at God, and believe everything we read.
God wants to make you whole, and what He’s asking you to do is believe what His Word says more than you believe what you think or how you feel. Keep speaking His Word over your circumstances and in His timing, He’ll complete the good work He’s begun in you.
See how it works? First you quote the Bible, then God does what you want. So whenever something crummy happens, you don’t say to God, “As the Sovereign Ruler over all things, clearly You are the One bringing this trial into my life. Please help me to learn everything that You want to teach me and make me all that You want me to be.” No, because that prayer is far too useful. That prayer is one which practices submission to a God who has not at all promised you perfect health in life. Joyce doesn’t want to submit to a God who isn’t going to give her what she wants, nor does she want to acknowledge that God never promised to give her perfect health. Joyce isn’t submitting personally, and here she encourages us to follow her lousy example by using the Bible as a kind of Divine cattle prod. She even goes so far as to tell you that this is what the real God actually wants you to do: boss Him around with some book. Well, no, the real God wants you to submit to His Authority.
To help you understand how drastically Joyce is misrepresenting God here, let’s talk about what Jesus meant when He said these famous words:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30)
This is a call to submit to God. Once again, Jesus is being metaphorical. He’s talking to people like they’re a bunch of bovines, and He’s telling them to come to Him and submit to Him putting His yoke on their necks. From the perspective of an ox, a yoke is a trap. It’s a wooden contraption which the animal cannot get out of once he’s put into it, and it’s a contraption which is designed to inflict physical misery onto the animal if he doesn’t go in the direction the owner wants. The same principle is in use when we put riding gear on a horse’s head. When you pull on the reigns of a horse, you are pulling on the animal’s head. He obeys you to get you to stop making him anatomically uncomfortable.
This isn’t an invitation to let Jesus come and shoulder your burdens for you in life. That’s a common misinterpretation of this passage because Christians are taught to view Jesus as their Buddy instead of their Master. But Jesus always taught that He is our Master, nor our Pal, and He’s not the one wearing the yoke. Instead, He’s the Master who locks us under His yoke. Once you understand what Jesus is actually talking about, you understand why He adds on the assurances about Him being a nice Guy. He’s gentle. The yoke He’s wants to clamp on our necks is not going to inflict us with agony—it will be bearable. The burden He wants us to haul will be one that we can handle. What Jesus is saying here is that He’s not an abusive Master. He’s kind, He’s good in Character. Well, fine, but He’s still talking about total domination. And when you pair this passage with those other passages where Jesus talks about the great cost of following Him, you don’t take the concept of submitting to His yoke lightly. It’s actually quite scary, but what pushes you over the line is reverence. You see, the same God who wants to clamp that yoke on you says He’ll throw you into Hell if you don’t cooperate. Well, if you’re smart, you decide to take your chances with the yoke. Jesus assures us that He’s a good and kind Master. But He also says that following Him won’t be some joyride.
Well, that’s Jesus. But Joyce flips this all around. She rejects the whole yoke and trial package. Instead, she says that Jesus wants to give us perfect lives on earth, and that means perfect health. But for some reason, Jesus has troubles with follow through and He just can’t do what He wants to do unless you start worshiping your Bible in His place. So Joyce sends you straight to the Bible, teaches you to view it as a higher god than the real God, and she’s got you obsessing over the contents of the Bible and trying to use it to undo any hardships that God—whoops, make that random chance—brings into your life. See it can’t be God who is giving you problems, because He only wants to bless you. So we can’t blame our problems on God—instead we have to dream up yet another power that is superior to God, and thus able to mess up His perfect plans for us. Satan is usually a popular choice here, or that mysterious entity called Sin. Either way, by the time Joyce is done, the real God is looking seriously inept.
Now the Bible’s a big book, and how do we know which Scriptures to yank out of context and cast over our lives? In her article, Joyce supplies us with links to several lists which she has composed of appropriate spells for various situations.
Depending on your situation, one or more of these scriptures or confessions may apply to a need you are facing right now. Take time to read them, meditate on them, pray them, and memorize the verses that will encourage you to trust God for the healing you need. Or write them down on a note card and carry them with you so you have them on hand wherever you are, whenever you need them.
If the scriptures you need aren’t listed here, search them out in the Bible and make them your confession. As you do, you’ll be amazed at how God’s Word will give you more of the abundant life you can have in Christ, and you’ll experience the wholeness and healing it brings.
Don’t miss who Joyce says will give you a more abundant life:
…you’ll be amazed at how God’s Word will give you more of the abundant life…
Here Christ is reduced to just a container that holds the abundant life, but it’s our powerful book god—that fictitious deity which Joyce is teaching us to put our faith in—that actually brings the abundant life to us. The book god is the active god. The real God is simply acted upon by the book god, thus the book god is the supreme power. See how it works? This is called idolatry and it’s going to get you into a major mess with the real God.
Now as you might expect, Joyce’s lists of magical verses are nothing more than her ripping ego pleasing passages totally out of context and then trying to say they are God’s promises for modern day Christians. We can hardly expect better from a woman who views the Bible as a tool for manipulating God. And after giving us several links to various lists of irrelevant passages, Joyce finishes her article up with a few sample spells that she lists under the heading “More Promises from God’s Word About Healing.” The first one is this:
O Lord my God, I cried to You and You have healed me. (Ps. 30:2)
Now wait a second. Joyce said these are promises about healing. This just sounds like some random dude thanking God for the healing that he personally received. How does some guy’s personal praise fest translate into a promise from God to modern day believers? It doesn’t, hence the utter ridiculousness of these popular “Bible Promise Books” that get cranked out by the Church. Most of the verses listed in such books aren’t promises at all.
So then, according to Joyce, Jesus wants us to experience perfect health in every dimension of our beings: soul, mind, emotions, and body. Joyce says Jesus promised us this very thing in the Bible, which He didn’t. Joyce says we can use the Bible to make God heal us, which we can’t. Joyce says God likes it when we treat the Bible like a powerful wand which we can use to zap Him into healing us. Well, no, He doesn’t. Joyce says the Bible—not God Himself—can give us a more abundant life. No, it can’t.
Is there anything good we can salvage from this article? No, the thing is pure rot from beginning to end. Does it mean everything Joyce says is wrong? No, because humans are a mixed bag. The point of these discernment exercises is not to label certain teachers as evil, but to help you understand why it so important for you to practice spiritual discernment. If you had read this article by Joyce and you didn’t question any of it, and you didn’t bother to ask God what He thinks about you treating Him like a dodo brain by quoting Scripture at Him 24/7, do you know what you’d be doing right now? You’d be rifling through your Bible for some verse that sounds like God is promising you special blessings. And then you’d start quoting it incessantly at God as if He’s a dog who you’re trying to teach a new trick to. What a waste of time that would be.
Remember: God is your only Source of truth, and God is not a book. Rely on God and God alone to guide you in life, and you’re going to end up in a much better place than Joyce was at when she wrote this irreverent article.
Practicing Discernment: Victoria Osteen Advises Christian Parents
Practicing Discernment: The Structure of Beliefs
The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes
Spiritual Maturity in the Bible: Where is it?
The Bible isn’t perfect. Now what?